There's nobody who plays the "slightly confused but good-hearted and boyishly charming" character quite so well as Hugh Grant, and while I think he's been reprising that basic role too often for the welfare of his career, in Four Weddings and a Funeral he's clearly at the top of his game. Paired up with Andie MacDowell and a plethora of excellent British supporting actors, Grant shines in this completely charming romantic comedy, which actually lives up to its description (as so few romantic comedies really do) by delivering both a compelling romance and a healthy dose of hilarity.
Four Weddings and a Funeral is a clever as well as a very fun (and funny) movie, starting from the fact that its structure is genuinely based on the get-togethers of the title. Except for a few short scenes, all of the story action in the film takes place on the actual days of each of the weddings and the funeral. You'd think that would limit the development of the characters or the story, but it doesn't: in fact, it makes the film more effective, as we get to know the characters by seeing how they react both publicly and privately to the various stresses and possibilities of a large social event. The episodic structure also perfectly complements the basic plot of the film, which is the "two ships passing in the night" relationship between Charlie (Hugh Grant) and Carrie (Andie MacDowell).
Another way of describing Four Weddings and a Funeral might be that it takes a bunch of excellent British actors, tosses them together, and stirs vigorously. (The supporting cast includes Kristin Scott Thomas, John Hannah, Simon Callow, Rowan Atkinson, James Fleet, and David Haig.) While the central storyline focuses on Charles and Carrie, the side stories of the other friends and their attempts at finding love and/or marriage are captured very well and add another layer of enjoyment to the film.
MacDowell plays Carrie in a fairly calm and reserved manner with relatively little by way of outright comedy, which allows her to be in some ways a foil for Grant's inspired blend of panic and charm. As I mentioned at the beginning of the review, Hugh Grant is in fine form here, possibly because he doesn't overplay the character of Charles; he strikes just the right notes here. (Kudos also have to go to the scriptwriters for some brilliant use of profanity, which is impossible to appreciate out of context but is completely hilarious in the film.)
The unexpected events at the finale of the film work as well as they do precisely because we do care about the happiness of these characters. Further, the film has been honest and above-board with us about the flaws and foibles of the characters, and has never given the sense of manipulating events to place obstacles in the way of the characters; they have plenty of problems and missed opportunities, but these seem to arise naturally from the circumstances of the characters' lives. As a result, there's a sense that the film truly is character-driven, that there's no deus ex machina that will descend from the heavens to make sure that all misunderstandings are resolved and that a happy ending is guaranteed. That's really the brilliance of having the funeral, a section of the story that is unabashedly sorrowful, as part of the film: with comedy and tragedy both having their place in the film, who's to say whether the ending might not be bittersweet?
Don't be fooled into thinking this is a new release or different edition of Four Weddings and a Funeral just because there's a different cover image up on Amazon. The copy I received to review is identical to the earlier edition that I already owned, including the cover art. It's possible that some new covers are being printed up and I just got a leftover old one for review, but in any case, the DVD is exactly the same as the 2000 release, in every way.
If I'd reviewed this disc when it was first released in 2000, I might have been more charitable about the transfer quality, but as it is, looking at it in 2005, it's clear that standards have risen, and this is a film that's begging for a special edition treatment.
Four Weddings and a Funeral is a flipper, with a non-anamorphic widescreen transfer on one side and a pan-and-scan transfer on the other. The lack of anamorphic enhancement alone is a mark against it, but it's also not a very good transfer to begin with. The print is not terribly clean, as it shows dirt and minor flaws throughout the film, there's moderate to heavy edge enhancement present, and the overall image tends to be rather soft. It still squeaks by with an average (meaning basically watchable) mark because colors look pleasant and natural, and there's nothing else wrong with it.
The Dolby 2.0 soundtrack for Four Weddings and a Funeral also wobbles precariously on the "average" mark, eventually tipping over into the "below average" category. For most of the film, the sound is bland but passable, offering moderately clean dialogue, if presented in a rather flat manner. At certain points, however, the sound quality degrades noticeably, so that dialogue takes on a harsh and unpleasantly tinny quality. There's also a French Dolby 2.0 track, and Spanish subtitles.
Hold on to your hats, folks... we get the theatrical trailer, and (drumroll please!) a "collectible making-of booklet"! Even the word "booklet" is a bit misleading, as it's simply a two-page insert printed with some miscellaneous facts about the making of the film. Don't ask me where the "collectible" aspect is supposed to come in.
Four Weddings and a Funeral is a great comedy, one that succeeds in blending romance and humor in just the right balance; it's also, I think, Hugh Grant's best performance. I'll recommend the film unreservedly, but I'm not so enthused about the DVD; there's still only the original (2000) release, in non-anamorphic widescreen with lackluster video and sound quality. I'll give it a "recommended" simply because the film itself deserves it, but certainly this is one DVD that's begging for a special edition treatment sometime down the line.